I’m spending a lot of time now inking and coloring, and while I work I usually need some background noise to help keep pace and to break up some of the monotony. Sometimes I’ll listen to music (usually heavy metal or anime soundtracks) and sometimes I’ll watch DVDs. For this recent bout of work I watched Gravity Falls. I never watched it when it was on TV because I don’t have cable or any streaming services (not much point to having Netflix when I can’t afford to have internet service) but the DVDs were reasonably priced at Walmart. There you can get the whole series for 20 bucks, which is usually my price point for complete series of American animated cartoons (I actually have a scale of what I’ll pay for different kinds of media. Anime and British sitcoms I’m willing to pay the most for, American sitcoms usually end up only getting bought on clearance. It’s why I’m like a decade behind most pop culture anymore.)
I’ve always heard good things about Gravity Falls, but I always take hype with an extra large grain of salt. Essentially described as Twin Peaks for kids, it’s a cartoon about a pair of twin siblings staying with their con artist great uncle at his roadside attraction, the Mystery Shack, which is outside a podunk Oregon town called Gravity Falls. It turns out the town and the surrounding woods are filled with weird phenomena and supernatural incidents and the boy twin, Dipper, is determined to get to the bottom of the sources of these mysteries, guided by an enigmatic journal with a number 3 printed on the front that he found in a secret compartment in the woods.
At first, most of the episodes are very self contained, and are more interested in cartoon shenanigans and good lessons for the kids. There’s a lot of weirdness with trippy monsters and creepy scenarios, but fundamentally the moral of these episodes are things like the importance of family and being yourself. In fact, most of the first season is more focused on the personal lives of Dipper and his sister Mabel, Dipper’s crush on older townie girl Wendy and the day to day life of their Grunkle Stan with the weird phenomenon of the week to tie everything together, often shoehorned just at the end. Based off of most of the first season alone, it’s a passable kid’s show with a pleasantly weird premise and imaginative visual design. At the end of the first season it starts to tip its hand with the arrival of the entity Bill Cipher.
The second season is better in almost every way. It manages to more balance a central mystery and climax that pays off in the series finale with individual episodes that are exciting, shocking and sometimes genuinely terrifying. It also better handles its emotional and human themes with the supernatural stuff without sacrificing one or the other. It also doesn’t waste any time or episodes. Each episodes lays groundwork and foreshadowing that in some way or another builds up to the series finale, even the episodes with sillier plots or premises. The first season was a lot less organized and elegant, with one shot episodes leading no where. Season one contains an episode that was a huge waste of time involving the 8 1/2th president which ends with the teasing of the ‘president’s key’ which could unlock any door that was never mentioned again, ever. I don’t know if it was intended to be a red herring, the writers didn’t get a chance to use what they were building up or what, but that was easily the worst, most pointless episode in the entire show. While some episodes were better than others, I can’t point to an episode in season two that I would call bad or a waste of time.
This all leads up to the series finale which outside of some anime, had one of the most epic climaxes I’ve ever seen in animation. The visuals and animation were freaking fantastic, the stakes were sky high and the ending was incredibly moving and touching. And it didn’t pull any punches, for which I respect both the creators and Disney for letting them get away with it. If I saw this show as I kid I would be freaking terrified, and I would love it. I know some people wish the series was longer, and while I see potential for additional storylines with the characters, you’d have a hard time topping that finale, and a forty episode series is a pretty healthy length for a series. I have a heard time calling this series overrated since it was quite good, but definitely season two is better than season one by leaps and bounds.